Tag: defensive pairings

San Jose Sharks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

Shocking: Ian White energized to play with Lidstrom

There are jobs around the league that are like holding the winning lottery ticket. Playing next to Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin? That’s probably a little easier than playing next to a 4th line fringe player. What about playing behind Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, or Ryan Miller in the playoffs? Yeah, they probably won’t be seeing very much action. There are jobs that are certainly easier than others—all the NHLer has to do is play their usual game and they’ll probably have a successful season. It’s taking the term “put in a position to succeed” to a completely different level.

For defensemen—the easiest job in the league for the last 15 years has been playing next to Nicklas Lidstrom. Time after time, he’s made good blueliners look extremely good. Word out of Detroit is that newcomer Ian White has beaten out Jonathan Ericsson to be the next contestant on “luckiest man in the hockey world.” (Note: his words, not mine)

Ian White said what a hundred defensemen around the NHL are probably thinking right now:

“I’m probably the luckiest guy in the hockey world right now. To be a new guy coming in here and to be paired up with one of the best defensemen to ever play the game, it’s quite an honor. He’s got a lot to teach me.”

It has become an annual rite of passage for hockey fans to question the Red Wings lineup and wonder aloud if they’re too old to compete with the elite teams of the Western Conference. Last season, people thought the game had passed Lidstrom and he responded by winning his seventh Norris Trophy. But as far as last stands go, the Red Wings could be looking at one this season.

The Red Wings have four unrestricted free agents on the blueline at the end of the season. Lidstrom is always toying with retirement, but Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, and depth defenseman Mike Commodore are all free to explore the open market on July 1. That leaves only Jonathan Ericsson and Ian White as NHL defenseman the organization can depend upon for more than a single season. GM Ken Holland always seems to find a way to work things out, but there are quite a few moving parts to address over the next nine months.

For White, this is an opportunity to find permanent home for the first time in his career. Since coming up with the Maple Leafs organization, he’s played for four different NHL teams in the past two seasons. Making matters worse, he suited up for three separate teams in 2010-11 alone! Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly since leaving Leafs either. Since leaving Toronto as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade, he’s struggled to replicate the success that helped him to 23 goals over two seasons.

The good thing about being repeatedly traded over the last two seasons is that it’s shown that he’s a desired commodity around the league. He was to be the defenseman to replace Phaneuf on the blueline for the Flames when he was traded from the Maple Leafs. Then he was supposed to be the missing piece in the Sharks defensive corps to help them over the hump in the West. Now, he’s being asked to fill the shoulder some of the load that has been left by Brian Rafalski’s retirement. It’s not an enviable job, but working with Lidstrom should help ease the transition.

Playing with Lidstrom, under the watchful eye of Mike Babcock, fans should keep an eye on Ian White to have a breakout seasons this year.

Who will pair up with Niklas Hjalmarsson now that Brian Campbell is gone?


It’s easy to look at the Brian Campbell trade as a no-brainer for the Chicago Blackhawks. In the grand scheme of things, it really was.

That being said, one thing that often gets lost in the critiques of Campbell’s bloated $7+ million annual salary cap hit is that “Soupy” could play. Sure, his defensive game left something to be desired, but Campbell is a great skater whose offensive skills were undermined a bit in Chicago because he wasn’t getting top power play time thanks to Duncan Keith’s undeniable brilliance.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is almost certainly the Chicago player who will miss Campbell more than anyone else. Campbell has been Hjalmarsson’s running mate for the vast majority of their even strength time during their seasons with the Blackhawks, so it’s reasonable for CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers to wonder which defenseman will take Campbell’s place.

The Swede was usually Brian Campbell’s blue-line partner in crime last season. But with Campbell’s trade, the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman will be back there with someone else in 2011-12.

So who will it be?

“I haven’t heard anything yet,” said Hjalmarsson as he and fellow Blackhawks Viktor Stalberg and Marcus Kruger painted the team logo at the United Center on Wednesday. “It’s going to be different without Soupy. I’ll have to find someone else to play with and I think someone on this D core will be a good fit.”

He certainly has enough potential candidates from which to choose. Regardless of whom that will be, Hjalmarsson will come in refreshed and ready.

Looking at Dobber Hockey’s line combo numbers from the last three seasons, Hjalmarsson’s second most common partner was Brent Seabrook. Seabrook should spend most of his time alongside Keith, but the two might be paired together when Chicago needs a different look. None of Hjalmarsson’s third most common partners are with the team anymore, so it’s almost certain that he’ll need to get acquainted with his most common mate during training camp.

If I had to guess, my money would be on Steve Montador or Sean O’Donnell. Montador boasts a bit more offensive prowess and comes in with a bigger contract, so he’ll probably get the first chance to be in Chicago’s second pairing. O’Donnell is a stable and steady veteran blueliner who is considerably underrated, though, so don’t count him out either.

Either way, Hjalmarsson might be expected to provide a little more offense from the blueline now that he won’t be expected to back up an offensive catalyst like Campbell. If nothing else, the Blackhawks have options, as Myers points out that the team has eight defensemen to choose from.

Knowing head coach Joel Quenneville’s line-changing ways, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hjalmarsson sees a little bit of everything before he settles on a consistent defensive partner.